A strong storm system approached the southwest yesterday and moved through the state overnight. Ahead of the storm, clouds began to increase just before sunset and I found myself at the Mormon Lake overlook. The cumulus clouds were fairly shallow so that the sunlight hitting the tops of the clouds was scattered downward and provided some diffuse lighting and color to the cloud bases.
There was also a thin gap between the clouds and the ground allowing for just a few minutes of direct sunlight.
Here are a few photographs of the sunset and clouds along with some sunlight spilling across the currently dry lakebed of Mormon Lake.
As the storm and cold front approached showers and thunderstorms quickly developed with a line of strong thunderstorms developing about an hour after sunset. There was quite a bit of lightning as the line of storms moved across the area. The sound of rain faded as it was replaced by snow falling in the wake of the front.
In the morning there was snow covering the ground. Measurements were difficult as strong winds during the night had blown the snow such that some areas had a few inches and other areas were bare.
The snow juxtaposed with autumn colors was very pretty but my favorite photograph was the snow on this cinquefoil that still has some flowers.
It was a pleasant evening in Sedona watching thunderstorms as the sun sank lower in the western sky. It was mostly clear in that direction allowing sunlight to illuminate storms in the east. This is one of my favorite setups: clear in the west and stormy in the east.
The setting sun produced wonderful pastel colors on the clouds and occasionally illuminated the rock spires and buttresses in the middle distance. And after sunset, distant storms showed large anvils along with occasional bolts of lightning.
This sunset from a few weeks ago was pretty spectacular. Drivers were pulling off the highway into the overlook area to get photographs. I overheard one person claiming this was a one-in-a-million sunset. That was probably an overstatement of several magnitudes. More likely, this was a one-in-a-hundred event, meaning you could see a sunset this great a few times a year.
I had been looking at satellite data that afternoon and saw a nice streak of high cirrus clouds moving across northern Arizona. The orientation of the clouds suggested that the sun might briefly appear below the clouds and illuminate the bottoms around and shortly after sunset.
So I headed out to Mormon Lake Overlook where there is a good view of the western sky and waited.
This is the second year in a row in which the North American Monsoon has failed to deliver its normal weather to Arizona. The monsoon had a late start in July with only a few isolated rain events early in the month and the main event starting around the third week of July. But even that faltered after a week and the final week of July was dry.
August was even worse with no measurable precipitation until after mid-month and even then the amounts were light. The National Weather Service in Flagstaff has posted some climate data for the area for August. It was the hottest August and the 2nd driest on record in Flagstaff and most of the west experienced similar conditions (Figure 1; Figure 2;Â Figure 3).
Photographing summer monsoon storms has been a challenge this year because there were so many dry periods. Even so, there are always interesting weather events and clouds that make it worthwhile. So here is a collection of the most interesting weather photographs from this summer.
A time-lapse movie shows that the ducks are more interesting than the convection.
Full rainbows eluded me this year butI did manage to photograph a rainbow segment.
As with rainbows, lightning was elusive this year. It was typically a case of being in the wrong place on the wrong day and at the wrong time. But I did get lucky with the following image.
And when there is no lightning and no rainbow, one can be content with the sunset.
It’s been a challenging season for storm photography. First was a late start to the North American Monsoon. And, then, just as it was finally ramping up it shut down quickly. Current model forecasts suggest at least another week until it ramps up again.
A bit of moisture managed to produce some thunderstorms right around sunset. And there was enough lightning to make it worthwhile to be there and get some photographs.